The leader of UKIP in Northern Ireland is calling on the NHS to integrate more closely with the private sector after he paid for relief from debilitating sciatica out of his own pocket.
His call comes after Stormont Health Minister Simon Hamilton echoed proposals from his Great Britain counterpart Jeremy Hunt for a move to a seven-day week for hospital doctors in order to cope with burgeoning NHS waiting lists.
UKIP Northern Ireland leader David McNarry is backing the idea, but says the model cannot work without closer integration with the private sector.
Mr McNarry said: “I had really bad sciatica up until quite recently. I could not sleep and was losing weight rapidly. I was lying on the floor in pain. It was the worst pain I had experienced in my life.
“I was getting treatment from my own doctor for eight weeks but in the end I said to him, ‘I cannot take any more of this - give me a number’.”
Mr McNarry was seen by a private doctor within four hours and treated within a week, at a cost of £850.
“After that I could have run out of the clinic. I was 85 per cent better,” he said. “The other people being treated in the clinic were not rich,” he added. “But they were desperate.”
He is now calling for the NHS in Northern Ireland to integrate more closely with the private sector to cut into the 120,000-long waiting list he says exists for pain clinics.
Last year the various trusts in Northern Ireland paid £8 million to private clinics to help slash NHS waiting lists, he said.
Some 35,000 from the pain clinic waiting list will still not be treated after 12 months, he said.
What he is calling for, he says, is a more formal and regular use of private clinics in order to keep the waiting lists down.
The Health and Social Care Board responded that demand for health and social care services, including elective treatment, is continuing to increase, set against a challenging financial position.
“In previous years, the Health and Social Care Board has provided additional funding to the five health trusts to undertake additional activity (both in-house and through the independent sector) to maintain waiting times in elective specialities where there is a gap between demand and capacity,” a spokeswoman said.
“However, given the current financial position, additional funding is not currently available for this purpose, and regrettably that will mean waiting times will increase.”
The board is working with trusts to minimise the impact, she added.